In 2008, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the former Black Panther a new sentencing hearing based on what it deemed flawed jury instructions. But the Supreme Court this year upheld a death sentence in an Ohio case with similar jury issues and has ordered the Philadelphia court to revisit ruling in Abu-Jamal's case.
Assistant Philadelphia District Attorney Hugh J. Burns Jr. has called the case "indistinguishable from the Ohio case." But defense attorney Robert Bryan has argued that differences between the facts of the two cases will enable the three-judge appeals panel to reach a different conclusion.
The Philadelphia Inquirer says Bryan withdrew from the case Friday after representing Abu-Jamal for seven years. Widener law professor Judith Ritter is to argue the appeal.
Abu-Jamal, 56, has argued in numerous appeals that racism by the trial judge and prosecutors led to his 1982 conviction by a mostly white jury. The case has become an international cause celebre among opponents of the death penalty, black activists and others.
Prosecutors have been fighting a federal judge's 2001 decision to grant Abu-Jamal a new sentencing hearing based on flawed jury instructions dealing with whether jurors understood how to weigh mitigating circumstances that might have kept Abu-Jamal from being executed. Under state law, jurors did not have to unanimously agree on a mitigating circumstance.
Abu-Jamal has been on death row since his 1982 conviction in the murder of Daniel Faulkner. The white 25-year-old patrolman had pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother downtown. Prosecutors say Abu-Jamal saw the traffic stop and shot Faulkner, who managed to shoot back. A wounded Abu-Jamal, his own gun nearby, was still at the scene when police arrived.